Perfectionism & People Pleasing

Perfectionism & People Pleasing

Perfectionists are people pleasers — not always, but most of the time. I found myself guilty of it before I embarked on my healing journey. Today, I still want to help people for no reason other than to further and support their talent and potential. It becomes unhealthy though when I realize that I (partially) do it to find acceptance, and that is when I stop myself these days, because, in the past, it used to backfire on me.

“Have no fear of perfection. You will never reach it.”

Salvador Dali

In our society, we see ‘perfectionism’ as a positive trait that increases our chances of success. Sometimes, we even brag about it, without even realizing that we are only sabotaging ourselves in the long run. So what is perfectionism really? Perfectionism is a shame-based survival mechanism. Perfectionism can be a trauma-response and symptom of Complex-PTSD and/or a result of intermittent reinforcement (a conditioning through random and unpredictable punishment or reward). If you find yourself being overly perfectionistic, you are looking for acceptance from others while pleasing them with perfect results that will either make them happy (internal fulfillment) or benefit them otherwise (external fulfillment). This whole concept is nonsense though, as perfectionism is nothing but a cover-up and not stemming from your most authentic self.

How did my perfectionism come about? I grew up in a German household that was cleaned on a daily basis. Everything had to be neat and tidy at all times, so everything looked practically ‘perfect’ on the surface. However, the love was missing that would have added genuine authenticity to this seemingly perfect white-picket-fence-family-life. In order to find love and acceptance, I adopted the cleanliness and became an A-grade student, as well. If I could not deliver a perfect result, it inevitably made me feel like a failure. For the longest time through my adulthood, I carried the false belief that this had simply been a “German” thing, to the point that I even began to detest my own “German-ness”. Germans have the reputation of being organized, hard-working, and always striving for more in their education, but that, as well, is nonsense, for our nationality is nothing but a label we assign to ourselves within the borders we were born in.

Later, as a young adult, I became a workaholic and projected my perfectionism onto other people. While, on a positive note, my perfectionism had opened me a lot of doors professionally and a reputation of being meticulous, I was not happy and it was hard for me to understand why other people had it so difficult in their lives, too. I knew what they would have to do in order to achieve great things, or at least, I thought I knew, and sort of imposed my help on them. Some rejected my help, some welcomed it with open arms, some used and abused my help to the point of emotional and physical exhaustion. It were the latter that made me want to reflect on my unhappiness and own toxic and people-pleasing habits to change things eventually.

During my healing journey, I peeled back layer after layer not only to find the roots of my perfectionism and people-pleasing habits but what exactly had happened in the past that had shaped me the way I was. The truth is, we do not have to and cannot be perfect 100% of the time. And if you want to heal all of it, you must be 100% honest with yourself (and others) to undo the things that were done to you in the past. As adults, it is solely within our own responsibility to recognize and change the programming that was installed in us when we were children, and give ourselves the love and acceptance that we had been yearning for for so long.

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